Flooding Impacts Tourist Attractions in Eastern Nebraska

by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News

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April 11, 2019, 6:45 a.m.

Floods last month were made worse by the warm temperatures of spring melting large amounts of snow all at once. While winter is having one more blast of snow this week, Nebraskans in the flood-affected area are looking towards the summer and how to keep tourism going.

Valley View Golf Course is a public course in Fremont, Nebraska. When floods hit last month, two of the bottom nine holes were under water. A creek runs through the course, and as it flooded the water brought debris onto the course.

Roy Metschke is the greenskeeper at Valley View. He says people wanted to golf even before the flood.

“Golfers have been wanting to golf ever since before that. The minute they see the sun they think they can swing a club. Well, I didn’t change my cups until a week ago. That’s how long it took for the frost to go out,” Metschke said.

The top nine holes of the course are open now, but Tuesday afternoon Metschke was still preparing the bottom nine. People working off their club memberships help pick up debris from the flood.

A creek at Valley View Golf Course in Fremont, Nebraska. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp)

Things at Valley View aren’t too bad. They’re looking to help others by donating some of the proceeds from their annual mud run to flood victims.

The idea that “it could have been worse” seems to hold true for multiple tourist attractions.

Jim Swenson is the chief of state parks for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He says he’s optimistic the parks commission can restore the parks quickly.

“We did have some impact. We did have some damage. But given the magnitude of the event, we feel pretty fortunate with what we’re finding thus far, and the impacts that we’ve had,” Swenson said.

One impact is road access. That’s particularly an issue for Niobrara State Park and Two Rivers State Park. Game and Parks has delayed the opening of Two Rivers.

The state parks depend on a strong spring and summer season. The weather gets nice and people want to go outside. Swenson says that’s still important this year.

“The parks that were affected by the floods will have a little bit of a setback in April, but our goal is to have those areas, or majority of those areas open for May 1. So we’ll still catch most of the spring season and certainly the summer season,” Swenson said.

One way people like to get into nature is getting out on the water Flooding may have left debris in Nebraska rivers. Swenson recommends gathering information.

“I would encourage anyone who’s gonna go boating, kayaking, canoeing on any of the Nebraska rivers this time of year do some investigation you know with our department, the Game and Parks law enforcement or with the Natural Resource District to determine if the water is safe for boating,” Swenson said.

Information is key to a lot of tourism. In Knox County, in far northeast Nebraska, officials want people to know they’re open for business.

Megan Hanefeldt is director of the Knox County Development Agency. She says her agency received a grant from the state tourism commission to do a social media blitz to advertise opportunities in Knox County.

“We’re hoping mid-May to start putting out information that shows that you can get to Niobrara and the region, really, because it’s not just folks coming up to Niobrara, it’s our whole entire are. Vertigree is also a community that was impacted by flooding, and they do see travelers in the summer as well,” Hanefeldt said.

Hanefeldt’s office is also trying to put a positive spin on flooding impact. The bridge that usually provides access from Niobrara into Niobrara State Park is out.

“What we’ve done is we’ve kind of looked at an alternate route to get to the Niobrara State Park, which would be like a 50 mile trip. And so we are trying to promote that as a scenic route,” Hanefeldt said.

For others in Knox county, next steps aren’t so clear.

Diane Krupicka and her husband run Niobrara Adventures, a kayak and tubing company. The launch area near their house was destroyed by flooding. The public landing area where they picked up customers at the end of a float trip was also destroyed.

“You know, we probably can rebuild our launch site. It’s just mainly gravel we gotta do, and some fencing. And we could probably do that on our own. It’s just gonna be time, money. But we can’t even consider trying to rebuild that unless we know there’s gonna be a place to pick people up at the end,” Krupicka said.

The landing site falls under the Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction, and whether or not DOT rebuilds the site will depend on plans for a new bridge. Krupicka was told there will be plans sometime this May. A temporary bridge will be in place in August, and the new bridge may not be ready for a year.

In the meantime, Krupicka and her husband don’t plan to run the business this summer. During the summer, the business is her husband’s livelihood. Krupicka says she shed a lot of tears in the first week after flooding.

“It would have been our seventh summer this year. You know, everyone that came, you know, they enjoyed it. It was about the only way you really could get to see that part of Nebraska. And we really hope that people from Nebraska, or from wherever, will still get to enjoy that beauty. Cause if we don’t do it, you won’t have access to it at all,” Krupicka said.

For the Krupickas, this spring marks the start of an era of rebuilding. They’ll have that in common with plenty of Nebraskans across the state.